Creating a Business Aviation Flight Department (Part 5)

What are the key considerations when developing the Operations Manual?

Fred Haap  |  07th October 2015
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    Fred Haap
    Fred Haap

    Fred Haap is an IS-BAO accredited auditor and past Chairman of NBAA. During his distinguished career...

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    Fred Haap continues his series on Flight Department formation based upon his many years of experience leading the Business Aviation operations of a Fortune 500 company.

    Standard operating procedures and check lists are followed by even the most experienced aviators. Similarly, the most successful Flight Departments establish an Operations Manual containing the administrative, operational, and maintenance procedures to be followed in fulfilling the company’s use of business aircraft.

    While mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration for flight operations providing commercial services under FAR Part 135, operators of company aircraft not engaged in flying for hire or reward are not required to have or use an ops manual. Best practices, however, urge operators to prepare and utilize an ops manual. In fact, the National Business Aviation Association requires that firms possess an Operations Manual to be eligible for Corporate Membership.

    An Operations Manual is a dynamic, multipurpose document that defines the Flight Department’s structure and institutionalizes the procedures it uses to fulfill the department’s Vision and Mission as stated in its business plan (previously discussed). 

    Thus the ops manual is a basic element in communicating the value of aviation services to the corporation and articulating why using business aircraft will benefit shareholders. It also forms the basis for interaction between the Aviation Manager and the corporation’s top management. All elements of running the company’s Business Aviation activities are included, ranging from scheduling, conducting flights, maintaining the aircraft, budgeting, and reporting ongoing financial performance to management.

    The ops manual presents Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and required performance for each activity of the Flight Department. Without established standards clearly stated in writing and understood by all parties, there are no standards. Without Standard Operating Procedures, efficiency suffers and risk of mishap increases. Without clearly defined expectations, there is no accountability.

    Just as professional aviators are schooled in proper techniques and embrace best practices, well run Flight Departments follow a culture of planning and explicit execution. The ops manual is their bible.


    In addition to documenting best practices for each aspect of flight, the ops manual should contain sections for aircraft maintenance, security, international operations, Emergency Response Plan, and administrative activities such as scheduling, documentation of flight activities, systematic reporting to top management and personnel issues.

    The department’s organizational structure needs to be specified, with each position identified and defined by an unambiguous job description and requirements for employment. Standards of conduct and appearance should be established. For example, if the company expects its male aviators to limit their facial hair to neatly trimmed mustaches, that expectation should be stated in the ops manual.

    The ops manual is the place to specify procedures for acquiring additional lift during periods of high travel demand or when the company aircraft is not available. Potential charter providers should be identified following a careful vetting through safety audits of their qualifications and accident history. The approved list of charter operators should be provided to individuals responsible for scheduling. These personnel should be unwavering in their adherence to chartering protocols.

    Safety procedures, including the discipline of annual audits, must be specified. Best practices urge internal safety audits alternated with external reviews by a third party. Thus audits are conducted every 12 months, and every other assessment is provided by an external agency or credentialed auditor.

    Flight departments are encouraged to consider the safety protocol known as International Standards—Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), which was developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC).

    IS-BAO Registration of a flight department is accepted by many aeronautical authorities throughout the world as one that utilizes an approved Flight Operations Manual and Safety Management System (SMS).

    In addition to documenting safety procedures, the ops manual should contain a signed statement from the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer unequivocally endorsing the Flight Department's safety procedures and explicitly stating that the captain’s decision regarding all flight operations is final. Furthermore, passengers must be informed that exerting pressure on the flight crew to depart or land, or otherwise unduly influence the captain’s authority, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

    Contingency procedures should be included in the administrative sections of the ops manual or in a separate document called the Emergency Response Plan (ERP). The ERP may be a standalone document or attached to the corporation's ERP if one exists. For example, how the corporation manages a crisis should be addressed in detail, whether the crisis is an aircraft accident or a non-aviation event affecting the Flight Department such as the destruction of facilities due to fire or an act of nature.

    Some crisis issues are the responsibility of the flight department, while others such as informing and caring for victims of a mishap or tragedy are best addressed by the corporation’s HR department or possibly by the office of the CEO. In all situations involving Business Aviation, communications and possibly coordination between other business units within the corporation will be needed. The place to specify those procedures is the ops manual or ERP. When a crisis happens, only the resources in place are useful. Just as with operating an aircraft, personnel must know what to do before they must respond. Crisis time is no time for ad hoc actions.

    Operations and Maintenance

    Detailed procedures for each segment of flight, from passenger manifest and dispatch to post flight inspection and documentation, must be covered. In addition to basic operations (e.g., airworthiness status, flight plan preparation, operational reports, etc.), the ops manual should address expectations above and beyond the department’s FAA classification.

    While FAR Part 91 allows operators of private aircraft to comply with standards less restrictive than Part 135 used by charter providers, each Flight Department may elect to follow more stringent limitations up to and possibly exceeding those which are allowed for commercial operations. The place to specify such standards is the ops manual.

    Those aspects of contingency planning that directly involve flight, such as dealing with an unruly passenger, a hijacker, or a terrorist are also best addressed in the operations section of the ops manual.

    By positioning the right person in the right place at the right time, a Flight Department contributes uniquely to the success of the company it serves. A means for capturing those elements of success, including a metric for valuing such efficiency, is warranted. The place to establish such a reporting protocol and measure of value and efficiency is within the ops manual.

    Maintenance policy and procedures should be fully described in a third section of the ops manual. Too often the Business Aviation community fails to articulate the pivotal role that maintenance plays in the success of a Flight Department.

    Costs can quickly escalate when a business aircraft is poorly maintained, and safety obviously will be affected by maintenance neglect or inadequacies. The ops manual must specify how the company’s aviation assets will be kept in safe and economically viable order, whether by maintenance done in-house, via contract services, or by an outside vendor (or some combination of those options).

    Customization Required

    The NBAA Management Guide contains an excellent outline of what should be included in the Flight Department’s operations manual, and the Association conducts frequent workshops describing how such manuals should be prepared. But each department is different; each has its own requirements that must be met to satisfy the needs of the company it serves. Thus there is no single template or computer program that will generate the best document for all operations.

    Each Flight Department must tailor its ops manual to address its specific role within the company and the unique circumstance surrounding its flight operation.

    Read more articles about Flight Departments online and in AvBuyer magazine.


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